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Systemic chemotherapy is not widely used for treating squamous cell carcinoma. In most cases, the cancer cells are confined to one area of skin and, if detected early, can be effectively addressed with localized treatments, such as surgery. If the cancer has progressed to an advanced stage and spread to other parts of the body, however, systemic chemotherapy may be recommended. This treatment involves the use of powerful drugs that are injected into a vein or swallowed so that they enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body to target widespread cancer cells.

When recommending a treatment plan for a squamous cell lesion, a physician will consider many factors, including the potential for metastasis (cancer spread). High-risk lesions include those that develop on the ears, eyelids, nose and lips, as well as all recurrent lesions. For small, low-risk squamous cell carcinoma lesions, topical chemotherapy may be recommended. This treatment can precisely target damaged skin without affecting the surrounding healthy tissues (because topical chemotherapy cannot reach cancer cells located under the surface of the skin, it is not usually prescribed for treating tumors that have grown deep into the skin).

One drug that is commonly used for topical chemotherapy to treat squamous cell carcinoma is fluorouracil (5-FU). This drug is:

  • Available in cream or lotion form
  • Applied by a patient at home over the course of approximately three to six weeks
  • Known to cause temporary skin irritation and redness at the application site

Another common topical treatment is imiquimod, a lotion that causes local immune cells to attack abnormal tissue, including squamous cell carcinoma lesions. This treatment may also be used to treat actinic keratoses, which are precancerous skin lesions caused by skin damage from exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Patients who are treated for squamous cell carcinoma at Moffitt Cancer Center can feel confident that they have access to the most effective chemotherapy drugs and drug combinations available based on the latest research breakthroughs. Through ongoing studies, Moffitt’s scientists and clinicians are continually evaluating new and better treatment options for squamous cell carcinoma and other forms of skin cancer. We also regularly offer investigational therapies to eligible patients through clinical trials. As a result, our patients benefit from new treatments as soon as they become available. This is just one of the many reasons why our patient outcomes consistently outrank the national average and our patients have the best possible quality of life.

All forms of squamous cell carcinoma chemotherapy are available to patients at all Moffitt locations. If you’d like to learn more about skin cancer treatment options, we provide consultations with or without referrals. Call 1-888-663-3488 or complete a new patient registration form online.